I got this letter in:
I became acquainted with your writing a couple of months ago and love it. I so wish I could travel back in time and hear your voice in my head while I was growing up, instead of the hard-core fundy “you’re going to hell” soundtrack of my early life.
I’ve read with great interest some of the things you’ve written about how the church treats victims of sexual violence. I just had to share a bit of my story around exactly that issue.
When I was 16 years old, I was raped at knife-point by a stranger. Not having a clue how to handle it, I decided to confide first of all in my pastor. While I was literally still bleeding from the attack, he told me (and I quote) “It’s too bad that you didn’t force him to kill you instead. That way you could have at least died a virgin.” That was the sum total of his “advice” to me—not, “Oh, you should go to the police,” or “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you,” or anything that might have been even remotely helpful anywhere on this planet.
After that reaction, I decided not to tell anyone else—including my parents or the police—ever. It wasn’t until six years later, after I had attempted suicide and was hospitalized for severe depression, that the truth came out. And then, only because I saw my rapist’s wedding photo and announcement in our local paper and freaked out a bit. (Well, okay, a lot.) It took me a long time, a ton of therapy, and no small measure of the grace of God to get past this exhibit of what a pastor-friend calls the “cult of virginity.”
God calls us to be sooooo much more than what happens with (or to) our genitals.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a voice of reason and compassion in that regard!! To this day, almost 30 years later, I harbor more anger toward that “pastor” than I do toward the man who raped me. At least the rapist wasn’t pretending to represent God. The damage the rapist did to my body and my psyche was not insignificant; but the soul-damage done by this “man of God” nearly killed my faith.
Are you are a pastor, priest, or ministry leader who holds that women are intrinsically inferior to men—that women should submit to their husbands, that women are less intelligent than men, less emotionally sophisticated than men, not as ambitious, driven, or proud as men? Do you believe that a woman’s highest calling is to be a good mother, that a young woman’s moral status is tied to her virginity, that women’s sexuality causes men to sin?
If you do believe those things, then I’m begging you to right now resign all of your authority in the church. Get out—and don’t talk to anyone on your way to the door, either. You do not speak for God. You wouldn’t know good counsel from bad porridge. At best you are profound and grievous embarrassment to God; at worst the devil himself wonders at the fullness of the damage you do.
Please just step away from the pulpit. Because surely you realize what a short step it is from, “God designed women to love but be inferior to men,” to, “You should have made your rapist kill you so that at least you’d have died a virgin.” If you do not realize how smoothy the latter extends from the former, then … then gosh, what a surprise: logic isn’t your strong suit.
Well, friend, neither is compassion. It’s not now, anyway. But it can be! You can change! You can learn. You can do the psycho-emotional work you need to if you’re ever going to become a true friend rather than an enemy of God and humankind. You can reflect, think, consider, open your heart to the painful damage I guarantee you someone once did you. You can come to terms with your own powerful sexuality, and in so doing discover not the condemnation of God you expected, but the affirmation of life you wanted.
But if you don’t do that work? If you don’t make that change? If you die believing and teaching the same things about women that you do now?
Then, brother, you better hope upon hope that God has mercy on your stupid, arrogant soul.
John Shore is the author of Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How To Defeat Each One of Them. (Also available as a NookBook.)